FIRST-ROUNDER READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT
BY: Marcus Young / Miller Park Prospects | 6:00 AM CST
To build a winning baseball team in this day and age, it always helps to be strong up the middle and since David Stearns took over as the General Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in late 2015, that has appeared to be a focus throughout the franchise’s rebuilding effort.
With players like Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, Tyrone Taylor, Monte Harrison and Trent Clark in the mix, one could argue that centerfield is among the deepest position in the Brewers organization, but that didn’t stop them from looking to add more depth when draft day 2016 rolled around.
The Brewers used their first round pick in last June’s First-Year Player Draft – number five overall – to select Ray, a toolsy centerfield prospect out of the University of Louisville.
An athletic ball of energy out of nearby Chicago, Ray turned in an impressive junior season for the Cardinals, hitting .310 with 15 home runs and 44 runs batted in while playing stellar defense and earning a nomination as a Golden Spikes Finalist, an award presented to the top college baseball player in the nation.
With four other teams picking ahead of them, Milwaukee had to do a little bit of waiting, but when high school pitcher Riley Pint went number four overall to the Colorado Rockies, the Brewers scouting department knew they had their man, and were thrilled to have the chance to bring Ray into the organization.
“He’s a dynamic personality to start with” said Ray Montgomery, Milwaukee’s Vice President of Amateur Scouting as he met with the media following the selection. “On the field you’re getting a centerfielder. He brings a unique speed and power combination to the profile. I think with his ability to get on base and sort of agitate and irritate the other team, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Another thing that Ray brings to the table is the ability to play any of the three outfield positions, but Montgomery made it clear that the Brewers see their first-rounder as a centerfielder.
“For us he fits as a centerfielder and I don’t see any reason why he won’t stay there. If you can get an up the middle type player who has that kind of power, speed, defense, we’re going to gravitate towards that. He’s a dynamic base runner. He’s really good at it and takes pride in it.”
David Stearns concurred with Montgomery, stating “We drafted Corey because we think he was the best player on the board. We certainly think that he’s going to be a quality piece of this organization going forward.”
Like Montgomery and Stearns, Ray sees plenty of things that he can bring to the table for the Brewers as well.
“I believe I’m a center fielder” said Ray when he met with reporters at Miller Park after signing his contract worth a slightly below slot bonus of $4,125,000.
“I think that I’m a top of the order type of guy who can do a lot of things for a lineup” continued Ray. “You can hit me one or two or eight or nine, or wherever you want me to hit. I can hit the ball in the gap, I can hit and run, I can get a bunt down, steal a few bases. Whatever it is that you need me to do, I’m willing to do it.”
After signing with the Brewers, the normal progression for a player would be to head to one of Milwaukee’s rookie league affiliates and then work their way up from there, but the Brewers took an aggressive approach with Ray, leaping him straight to High-A Brevard County to begin his professional career.
“Every player develops at his own pace” said Stearns following the draft. “We’re gonna let Corey do the same.”
Following his appearance at Miller Park, Ray made a brief stop off for the Golden Spikes Award ceremony in Durham, North Carolina and though Kyle Lewis of the Seattle Mariners was named the winner, Ray was delighted to be among the four finalists for the award.
“You work hard, as hard as you can to be there” said Ray, “and when they call you and say that you’re one of the four finalists in the country for this prestigious award, you’re honored.”
Following the award ceremony, Ray continued on to Florida and joined Brevard County and proved up to the challenge, holding his own in 57 games with the Manatees, hitting .247 with 13 doubles, a pair of triples and five home runs in the Florida State League which is known to be tough on hitters.
With the Manatees struggling mightily and Low-A Wisconsin short on outfielders heading into the post season, the Brewers made the decision to send Ray down a level to join the Timber Rattlers. He played the final three regular season contests with the Rattlers and a pair of playoff games before his whirlwind season finally came to an end.
Ray figures to return to High-A, at least to start the 2017 season with the Brewers new affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats, but a strong spring and/or a quick start to the season could quickly result in him advancing to Double-A Biloxi.
Whatever path he takes, fans at Miller Park can expect to see Ray roaming the outfield there before long and for many years to come as a key up-the-middle piece in what the Brewers hope will be the next nucleus of a playoff contender.